Summary Statement, 1st Quarter, 1863 – New York Independent Batteries (Part 1)

All told, thirty-six formations from New York received the designation “Independent Battery, Light Artillery” during the war.  Some of these were simply re-designation of existing batteries, to better align record keeping with practice (such as Battery L, 2nd New York Heavy discussed last week, which became the 34th Independent Battery).  Others were completely new batteries formed outside the regimental system.  Of those, some were short lived or never completely formed.  Still, these independent batteries were a rather substantial number of lines to account for in the quarterly summaries.  For the first quarter, 1863, there were thirty-two enumerated:


Let us look at these in batches, for better focus:


Starting with the first dozen:

  • 1st Independent Battery: At Belle Plain, Virginia with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Captain Andrew Cowan commanded the battery assigned to Second Division, Sixth Corps, Army of the Potomac.
  • 2nd Independent Battery:  No return. At the start of the winter, Captain Louis Schirmer commanded this battery, assigned First Division, Eleventh Corps.  When Schirmer was promoted to command the corps’ artillery reserve later in the spring, Captain Hermann Jahn took command of the battery.
  • 3rd Independent Battery: At Potomac Creek, Virginia with six 10-pdr Parrotts (an increase from the last quarter). The battery served in Second Division, Sixth Corps, under Lieutenant William A. Harn.
  • 4th Independent Battery: No return.  Assigned to Second Division, Third Corps. We are familiar with the 4th, thanks to their stand at the Devil’s Den at Gettysburg, and know they had six 10-pdr Parrotts.  Through the winter, the battery saw several officers depart for other commands and Lieutenant George F. Barstow, 3rd US Artillery, took command late in the winter.  “The men were despondent,” Captain James E. Smith later recounted, “and became lax in their duties, not without some excuse.”  For this, and other reasons, Smith returned to command his old battery in May.
  • 5th Independent Battery: At Falmouth, Virginia with four 20-pdr Parrotts.   This was Captain Elijah D. Taft’s battery in the Army of the Potomac’s Artillery Reserve.
  • 6th Independent Battery: No location listed, but with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. At the start of the winter, the 6th was under Captain W. M. Bramhall and part of the Artillery Reserve.  By spring, Lieutenant Joseph W. Martin assumed command with the battery transferred to the Horse Artillery (First Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac).
  • 7th Independent Battery: At Norfolk, Virginia with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Captain Peter C. Regan’s battery supported the Seventh Corps.
  • 8th Independent Battery: At Yorktown, Virginia with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Part of the Fourth Corps, on the Peninsula, Captain Butler Fitch commanded this battery.
  • 9th Independent Battery: Fort Reno, District of Colulmbia, with only infantry stores.  Captain Emil Schubert, of the 4th US Artillery, was commander of this battery, assigned to the Twenty-Second Corps.  As indicated, the battery was not equipped as light artillery.
  • 10th Independent Battery: At Falmouth with six 12-pdr Napoleons.  Lieutenant Samuel Lewis replaced Captain John T. Bruen during the winter.  The battery remained with Third Division, Third Corps until later in the spring.
  • 11th Independent Battery: Also at Falmouth but with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. Battery also assigned to Third Division, Third Corps. Lieutenant John E. Burton replaced Captain Albert Von Puttkammer in command.
  • 12th Independent Battery: At Camp Barry, Artillery Camp of Instruction, District of Columbia and reporting four 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. Captain George F. McKnight replaced Captain William H. Ellis.

A few changes in command and only one significant transfer through the winter.  And not many changes in the number and type of cannon.  Notice all these batteries served in the Eastern Theater.  More specifically, in Virginia and the defenses of Washington.

Only one battery reported smoothbores on hand:


But we have two lines?

  • 5th Battery:  56 canister for 6-pdr field guns.
  • 10th Battery:  288 shot, 96 shell, 288 case, and 96 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.

Why would Taft’s Battery have canister for 6-pdr smoothbores?  Perhaps for use in their 20-pdr Parrotts.  The bore size was the same.  Notably, the battery didn’t report these in the previous quarter.

Meanwhile, 10th Battery seemed short of ammunition for it’s Napoleons. No change from the previous quarter’s report.  Such leads me to believe someone made “quick work” of their duties.

Hotchkiss projectiles were favored for the 3-inch Ordnance Rifles in the Army of the Potomac, and accordingly, we see a lot of those reported on hand:


Six batteries with entries:

  • 1st Battery: 129 canister, 211 percussion shell, 370 fuse shell, and 570 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 6th Battery: 59 canister, 285 percussion shell, 44 fuse shell, and 323 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 7th Battery: 114 canister, 47 percussion shell, 259 fuse shell, and 715 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 8th Battery: 175 canister and 45 percussion shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 11th Battery: 151 canister, 258 fuse shell, and 775 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 12th Battery: 137 canister, 73 percussion shell, 40 fuse shell, and 120 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.

Not to fret about the 8th Battery, as they were not short on ammunition.  Turning to the next page:


We see the 8th had Dyer’s patent projectiles:

  • 8th Battery:  369 shell and 650 shrapnel for 3-inch rifles.

And there are two Parrott batteries (not counting Smith’s which didn’t submit a report):

  • 3rd Battery: 480 shell , 480 case, and 190 canister of Parrott for 10-pdr Parrotts.
  • 5th Battery: 45 Parrott Shell for 20-pdr Parrotts.

And the last page of rifled projectiles has a couple more entry lines for Schenkl:


  • 1st Battery: 29 Schenkl shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 3rd Battery: 120 Schenkl shell for 10-pdr Parrotts.

Lastly, we turn to the small arms reported on hand:


Seems like everyone had something:

  • 1st Battery: Twenty-eight Navy revolvers, eight cavalry sabers, and fifteen horse artillery sabers.
  • 3rd Battery: Four Army revolvers and twelve cavalry sabers.
  • 5th Battery: Twenty-three Army revolvers and twenty-one horse artillery sabers.
  • 6th Battery: 155 Navy revolvers, twenty cavalry sabers, and two horse artillery sabers.
  • 7th Battery: Eighteen Navy revolvers and twenty-six cavalry sabers.
  • 8th Battery: Fourteen Navy revolvers and fourteen horse artillery sabers.
  • 10th Battery: Fifty-eight Navy revolvers and eleven horse artillery sabers.
  • 11th Battery: Twenty Army revolvers and twenty-two cavalry sabers.
  • 12th Battery: Twenty-eight Army revolvers and twenty-nine horse artillery sabers.

For the next installment, we’ll look at the second batch of New York’s independent batteries – 13th through 24th.

Fortification Friday: Carefully place and construct Powder Magazines!

So you’ve built your works and improved it with a nice set of batteries.  Great!  Are those walls and obstacles all that is needed to scare away an attacker?  Probably not.  At some point, the defenders will need to do more than sit being the parapet.  They will need to do some shooting.  And shooting requires, among other things, gunpowder and projectiles.  Lots of gunpowder and projectiles.  But those are things one does not just have laying about in the open.  Not to mention the danger of explosions, gunpowder tends to deteriorate if not properly stored and maintained.  Thus the need for powder magazines.

Mahan registered the requirements of such powder magazines in his treatise:

Powder magazines. The main objects to be attended to in a powder magazine are, to place it in the position least exposed to the enemy’s fire; to make it shot proof; and to secure the powder from moisture.

Point of order here.  Mahan singled out powder magazines specifically as places where ammunition was kept. Defenders might build various protective structures for other uses, but the powder magazine’s arrangements were to directly address the needs of storing ammunition. Point to remember later when we look at other types of internal structures.

Also note the use of the word “shotproof” here.  Specifically that requirement is to prevent solid shot from battering the structure.  Bombproof would, of course, involve resisting enemy shells.  But from the text, it is not clear that Mahan made a distinction here… just food for thought.

Don’t know that I’d rank these three requirements, as all are important.  But I’d offer that the professor gave us his preferences in reverse order!  That is if he had such rankings.  Consider the next paragraph:

If there are traverses, such for example, as are used in defilement, the magazines may be made in them; or they may be placed at the foot of a barbette; or, in dry soils, be made partly under ground.

Egad!  A traverse, as we learned, is a structure designed to sit in the way of the enemy’s anticipated line of fire… so as to intercept those fires.  So much for “least exposed”….

But let us focus on the practical aspects of the magazines:

The magazines should be at least six feet high, and about the same width within; its length will depend on the quantity of ammunition. It may be constructed of facines, gabions, or cofferwork, or any means found at hand may be used which will effect the end in view.

I’ve not seen any justification for the six foot dimensions.  Perhaps just the average height of the men servicing the ammunition.  Hey, you need to save that back for throwing back the enemy’s assaulting troops!  And we see mention here of some revetment types in order to strengthen the magazine beyond that of plain soil.  But cofferwork is a new phrase, implying a more complex magazine arrangement.  Let us hold off details of that and focus on the basic work.

If [fascines] are used, the sides should slope outwards to resist the pressure of the earth; the fascines should be firmly secured by pickets and anchoring withes.  The top may be formed by a row of joists, of six-inch scantling, placed about two and-a-half feet apart; these should be covered by two layers of fascines laid side by side, and the whole be covered in by at least three feet thickness of earth.

Figure 34 illustrates these arrangements:


The figure shows a magazine buried at all sides.  So assume the placement is correct and sufficient earth is employed to make the structure shotproof as required.  Thus we focus on the internal arrangements.  As required, the fascines are secured and anchored.  Notice these are slanted (“sloped outward”) as necessary for support.  The floor is six feet wide.  Six feet above that is an eight feet wide ceiling, constructed with six-inch wide beams (scantling).  Those support two layers of fascines, laid in opposite orders.  And atop that, another three feet of earth.   Shotproof!

But let us look at details below the floor:

The bottom should be covered by a flooring of joists and boards; a shallow ditch being left under the flooring, with a pitch towards the door of the magazine, to allow any water that might leak through to be taken out.  A thatch of straw might be used on the inside, but it is somewhat dangerous, owing to its combustibility; hides or tarpaulins are better, and will keep out the moisture more effectually.

Thus, we see all three requirements addressed in this basic magazine. Nice notes here as to drainage.

Mahan was concerned mostly with construction of the magazine.  He did not address directly maintenance needed, which was of just as much importance.  Beyond just keeping earth on the magazine and the internal structure strengthened, the magazine need be tidy and organized.  Not only to reduce risks of accidental explosions, but also so that retrieval of ammunition was quick and easy.

And speaking to accidents, a good engineer would confront such risks.  To some degree the slope of the magazine wall would focus the force of an explosion upwards and out. The sides of the magazine should be thicker, or at least more resistant, than the roof, so as to allow the venting of such force.  But those were just mitigations against the risk.  The first line of defense against such risk was proper handling and maintenance of the ammunition.

With the basics of the magazine established, let us turn next to more elaborate arrangements.

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, pages 58-9.)

Tonight on Caption-Busters: That Battery L, 2nd New York photo….

In my opinion, Public Broadcasting or one of the various documentary cable channels would do well with a series that explores old photos (not just Civil War photos, but you know where my preference would be) and matches them up to specific locations, times, and persons.  Certainly there are interesting stories as to how the image got onto glass plate.  Beyond that, there are so many cases where the photo is not what we think it is.  Such is the case of the Battery L, 2nd New York photo from yesterday’s post:


There is no doubt the photo was taken at Fort C.F. Smith, with the nice sign there in the background.  But as I said yesterday, the service record of Battery L does not place it at Fort C.F. Smith… at least not long enough for any reporting period.  So that is a question which needed to be resolved.

When preparing the post, my first take on the gun was that it appeared to be a Napoleon.  Then I looked at the muzzle, which under low resolution appeared to extend straight to the length expected for the Ordnance Rifle.  The color of the tube, in black and white, may be bronze or it may be the natural metal color.  But if we go for the latter, then another question comes into play – why was it not painted?

Two strikes.  But I figured if the Library of Congress retained the caption and the New York State Military Museum agreed, then maybe I shouldn’t ask any more questions.

Reader John Wells further questioned the photo.  And that prompted me to start looking in higher resolution.  And particularly the muzzle:


Maybe it is straight.  Looks more like a muzzle swell to me.  But with whatever is draped over the muzzle in the way, hard to tell.  (Doesn’t that look like a vest laying over the muzzle?)

So a breaking ball on the corner… and the umpire is not in a generous mood.  A foul ball.  Still two strikes.

But, we have a pitcher’s count.  And here’s the put away pitch:


Hat brass – this is not Battery L.  Appears to be Battery K of some regiment other than the second. Looks like a one to me.  But Benjamin Cooling’s Mr. Lincoln’s Forts mentions Battery K, 2nd New York Heavy rotating through the fort during the war (and likewise identified the battery in the photo we are questioning).

So clearly not Battery L. And I’d even have to question the regiment’s identification when noting the badge on the fellow to the right of the snip (above).  Is that a corps badge?  Second Corps? Fifth Corps?  Sixth Corps?

Two others have similar badges, including the fellow on the left leaning on the wheel:


But the badge is on the left breast, not the right.

Though I would point out, there is a mixture of artillery and infantry accouterments (cap pouches and bayonet frogs) among the crew.

Lesson re-learned… never trust Library of Congress captions.  Not that the Library is suspect.  Not at all. Rather the information passed to them, often from the original distributor of the printed image, is sometimes… too many times… suspect.


Summary Statement, 1st Quarter, 1863 – 2nd New York Heavy and 3rd New York Cavalry

Before moving on to the New York Independent Batteries, there are two lines to clean up for the first quarter, 1863.  Sandwiched between the returns for the 1st Regiment and 3rd Regiment is a lone line for Battery L, 2nd New York Heavy.  And at the bottom of the page is an entry for artillery assigned to the 3rd New York Cavalry.  I’ve split the lines here so we can focus without those light regiments in the way:


Transcribing the lines:

  • Battery L, 2nd New York Artillery: At Crab Orchard, Kentucky with four 3-inch rifles.
  • Section “attached to 3rd New York Volunteer Cavalry”:  At New Bern, North Carolina with two 12-pdr field howitzers.

As we don’t have a lot else to discuss, let’s take a closer look at these two.

Battery L was among those missing from the previous quarter and I am at a loss to explain why I didn’t mention such!  So let’s introduce them formally.  The battery was recruited at Flushing, New York by Captain Thomas L. Robinson.  It was known as the Hamilton Artillery and Flushing Artillery at times.  But was formally Artillery Company of the 15th New York Militia.  Before leaving the state, the battery was assigned to the 2nd New York Artillery.  Though a “heavy” regiment, it was not uncommon to have a light battery assigned.  Robinson’s battery might have filled in as Battery L for the 3rd New York, but they were still training at Camp Barry when Burnside’s North Carolina Expedition departed.  When Robinson left the service, Captain Jacob Roemer assumed command.  And around that time, the battery was assigned to the Army of Virginia.  The battery saw action at Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, but remained in the Washington Defenses for the Maryland Campaign.  Battery L returned to the field for Fredericksburg as part of Ninth Corps (Second Division).  When the Ninth Corps transferred west, Battery L was among them, Roemer still in command.

Crab Orchard, Kentucky?  That location appears on September 1863 dispatches related to the battery.  I may be splitting hairs, but the battery’s duty location was listed as Paris, Kentucky in April of that year.

But we have some asterisks to address on the unit designation.  In November 1863, Roemer’s Battery became the 34th New York Independent Battery.  A new Battery L, 2nd New York Heavy was recruited in its place.  Meanwhile the 34th came back east with the Ninth Corps for the Overland Campaign.  Lots of changes, but follow the ball.  We’ll see this same battery on a different line on future summaries.

However, there is the matter of this photo:


“Fort C.F. Smith, Co. L, 2d New York Artillery” the caption says. No disputing the location. And that is a 3-inch Ordnance Rifle.  But which Battery L?  This could be the “original” just before leaving the Washington Defenses in 1862.  Or perhaps during the Antietam Campaign when the battery was also posted to the capital (though returns place the battery on the Maryland side of the Potomac).  Or is this the “new” Battery L later in the war?  Sure would be nice to link that rifle in the photo to one tallied in the summary.  (UPDATE: Or maybe this isn’t even Battery LOr maybe this isn’t even Battery L….)

Turning now to the 3rd New York Cavalry, as mentioned for the forth quarter, 1862 summary, I believe this to be Allee’s Howitzers.  However, that same line indicated mountain howitzers the previous quarter.  We may have a transcription error.  Even worse, to the right of the cannon columns, the clerks indicated the section had two 6-pdr carriages and two 12-pdr howitzer caissons. Go figure.

And I’ll tell you something else strange about that section assigned to the 3rd New York Cavalry:


Apparently they had no ammunition!

So readers don’t feel cheated, that section did report having some stores on hand: two each – sponge buckets, tar buckets, fuse gauges, gimlets, gunner’s haversacks,  pick axes, felling axes, priming wires, shoves, sponge covers, vent covers, padlocks, claw hammers, hand saws, and wrenches.  Also six sets of harness traces, four lanyards, six nose bags, six tarps, four tube punches, four whips, 98 leather bridles, 99 leather harnesses, and one packing box.

Moving to the rifled projectiles, Battery L did have ammunition to fire:


Hotchkiss columns first:

  • Battery L:  83 canister, 32 percussion shell, 336(?) fuse shell, and 324 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.

But nothing to see on the next page:


Moving right along to the last page of ammunition:


  • Battery L: 30 Schenkl 3-inch shells.

Throw in some small arms:


Again, just Battery L, as we assume the 3rd Cavalry reported theirs on a separate set of “cavalry” forms:

  • Battery L: 15 Navy revolvers and fifteen horse artillery sabers.

There you have it… A battery and a section.  Four Ordnance Rifles and two howitzers.  805 projectiles for the rifles.  Fifteen pistols and fifteen sabers.  And I stretched that out to make a blog post.

Summary Statement, 1st Quarter, 1863 – 3rd New York Light Artillery Regiment

Given the nature of mustering, organizing, and outfitting, it was rare that all the batteries of a light artillery regiment went to war as a set.  Arguably, that is what happened with the 3rd New York Light Artillery Regiment.  Arguably… as the regiment was also not completely outfitted as light artillery, serving as heavy artillery.  I briefly discussed the regiment’s formation in the preface to the fourth quarter return.  And we saw the regiment (minus Battery L, which was really just a paper designation) served in North Carolina, mostly around New Bern.  With the new year changes came.  First, Colonel James H. Ledlie became the Chief of Artillery, Eighteenth Corps.  Lieutenant-Colonel Charles H. Stewart then assumed command of the regiment, with Lieutenant-Colonel Henry M. Stone as second in command.  But the regiment was not to remain intact.  Major-General David Hunter called for reinforcements for his planned offensive on Charleston.  Along with other units, Major-General John Foster sent Batteries A, B, C, D, E, F, and I to the Department of the South.  The other batteries remained in North Carolina, and many men saw action in the Siege of Washington, March 30-April 20, 1863.

With those changes in mind, what do we see on the returns for the quarter?


Strictly according to the clerks at the Ordnance Department:

  • Battery A: No return.
  • Battery B: No location listed, but reporting six 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Battery C: Infantry Stores, New Bern, North Carolina.
  • Battery D: Infantry Stores, New Bern, North Carolina.
  • Battery E: New Berne, armed with two 24-pdr and two 32-pdr field howitzers.
  • Battery F: No return.
  • Battery G: No return.
  • Battery H: New Berne with six 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Battery I: New Berne reporting four 20-pdr Parrotts.
  • Battery K: New Berne with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.
  • Battery L: No return.  Again, this battery did not exist
  • Battery M: Infantry Stores, New Bern, North Carolina.

But allow me to reconcile these lines against details from the regimental history.  First off, the batteries, or sections thereof, transferred to South Carolina:

  • Battery A: Lieutenant Martin Laughlin with 60 men to serve as heavy artillery, armed with rifles.
  • Battery B: Captain Joseph J. Morrison, with 102 men serving six 12-pdr Napoleons.  (Although Captain James B. Ashcroft appears on other records.)
  • Battery C: Lieutenant Charles B. Randolph with 26 men serving as heavy artillery.
  • Battery D: Lieutenant Luke Brannick with 25 men serving as heavy artillery.
  • Battery E: Captain Theodore H. Schenck with 90 men also serving as heavy artillery. Presumably leaving the heavy howitzers in North Carolina.
  • Battery F: Captain Edwin S. Jenny (when promoted, replaced by Captain David A. Taylor) and 94 men with six 6-pdr Wiards (Though I question if that caliber or the 12-pdrs were assigned).
  • Battery I: Lieutenant George W. Thomas, 98 men, and six 12-pdr Napoleons (in lieu of 20-pdr Parrotts?).  (However, Captain John H. Ammon was listed as battery commander.)

Note that some batteries were reduced much in manpower, in part due to expiration of enlistments.  We see some matches to the returns, with equipment reported.  And some clear misses!  And we might correctly allocate Batteries A, B, E, and I, at least, to Port Royal at this time.  These seven batteries/sections were carried on some returns as a battalion, under Schenk. (And I would mention, as a shameless promotion of other blog posts, you readers are familiar with these batteries from their work during the summer of 1863 on Morris Island.)

Back in North Carolina, Battery G was part of the Washington (North Carolina) garrison.   Batteries H, K, and M reported from New Bern. Sections, or at least detachments, from Batteries E, F, and I remained at New Bern. Thus we have some reconciliation between the actual duty location and that indicated on the summary.  Of those not mentioned above, here were the battery commander assignments:

  • Battery G:  Captain John Wall.
  • Battery H:  Captain William J. Riggs.
  • Battery K: Captain James R. Angel.
  • Battery M:  Captain John H. Howell.

I’ve spent much longer discussing the organization and activities of the regiment, as that sets up for a longer discussion, during the next couple of quarters, as batteries were mustered out and replaced.  And besides, with all those “Infantry Stores” lines, there are not a lot of artillery projectiles to count!

Turning beyond that organizational aspect of the 3rd New York, let us look at ammunition on hand.  First the smoothbore:


Three batteries to consider:

  • Battery B: 648 shot, 408 shell, 848 case, and 440 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon (I believe column entries for shell is another clerking error.)
  • Battery E: 42 shell, 166 case, 42 canister for 24-pdr field howitzers; 66 shell, 130 case, and 48 canister for 32-pdr field howitzers.
  • Battery H: 439 shot, 130 shell, 464 case, and 160 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.  (Again, the entry for case appears to be a transcription error by the clerks.)

We see above that Battery E did not take the big howitzers to South Carolina.  Later, there are reports of howitzers of those calibers around New Bern.  So I assume those were transferred to the garrison there.

Moving to ammunition for the rifles, there are short entries:


Just one battery with Hotchkiss:

  • Battery K: 184 canister, 160 percussion shell, 287 fuse shell, 452 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.

On the next page of rifled projectiles, we can focus on entries for Parrott-types:


And that is for 20-pdrs that we might assume, based on regimental history, were left in North Carolina:

  • Battery I: 541 shell and 450 case shot for 20-pdr Parrotts.

Moving to the third page, likewise only one line reporting… and that on the far right of the section:



  • Battery I: 123 Tatham 3.67-inch canister.

While Tatham is most associated with James and other bronze rifles, the 20-pdr Parrott’s bore was 3.67-inch.

Lastly, we turn to the small arms:


By battery reporting:

  • Battery B: Twenty Army revolvers and thirty-three horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery E: Nineteen Navy revolvers, two cavalry sabers, and thirty-one horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery H: Thirty-one Navy revolvers and fifty horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery I: Ten Army revolvers, nine Navy revolvers, and forty horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery K: Twenty-seven Navy revolvers, three cavalry sabers, and fifty-two horse artillery sabers.

Would be interesting to have a full set of returns for the small arms.  Some of the “heavy” batteries are listed here, but not all.  Given the nature of the 3rd regiment’s service at this point in the war, it is odd not to see long guns reported.
(Details of the 3rd New York Artillery’s service from Henry Hall and James Hall, Cayuga in the field : a record of the 19th N. Y. Volunteers, all the batteries of the 3d New York Artillery, and 75th New York Volunteers, Auburn, New York, 1873.)

Fortification Friday: Applying what we know about fortification batteries

So we’ve defined and examined the different types of batteries used in field fortifications.  We know barbettes allowed the guns to fire over the parapet, while embrasures had the guns firing through the parapet.  And we also referred to rules for building platforms under the guns.

Lots of “book learning” but how does that apply out in the field?  Again, let us turn to one of the great primary sources we have for the Civil War – photographs!

First stop, a photo captioned “Company H, 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery at Fort Lincoln”:


Three Parrott rifles in view.  We’ll hold off discussing the 6.4-inch on the right.  It is the two 30-pdr Parrotts (correct me if I have the type wrong) in the center of view.  These are in barbette.  We see the classic layout as described by the textbook.  Note the raised earth, on which the engineers had platforms.  One platform for each gun, plus additional platform between the guns. Such leads me to consider this “beautification” of the works, to prevent a lot of wear and tear from foot traffic.  The parapet stands just higher than the axles of the carriages (siege carriages, by the way).  The gun on the left is at zero elevation (or at least darn close to it), with a few inches at the muzzle to clear the parapet allowing some declination… though without being there at that place and time, we don’t know for sure how much.  Lastly, note this battery one ramp directly behind the right side gun.  That is probably another ramp to the left of view (and there is likely another gun out of frame).  All in all a clean barbette battery.  Glad those heavies had time to keep the fort in order!

Now lets move over to Fort Richardson, where the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery had their guns firing through embrasures:


Six guns in view here.  The one on the distant left looks to be in barbette, but the rest are embrasure.  Those on siege carriages sit atop platforms. The nearest is at the level of the fort’s parade.  Platforms for the siege gun on the far wall and that at the bastion (far distant right) are elevated at least a slight bit.  From the photograph’s angle, we cannot make out much of the embrasure’s details – the sole and other features are out of view.  But we do see a well cut opening.  The nearest gun and the next over (on a garrison/seacoast carriage) are situated so that the line of the bore is right at the interior crest.  Part of the muzzle is above the crest.  So the embrasure did not provide complete protection for the crew. Just enough, perhaps.

Now those are “garrison” troops well to the rear with plenty of time to make the fortifications look good.  How about those on the front lines who are busy sending over hot iron?  OK, how about Fort Brady, outside Richmond:


Up front we have a big 6.4-inch Parrott firing through a well constructed embrasure.  Note the gabions and sandbags laid to reinforce the parapet.  And the parapet extends well above the line of the bore.  This crew had ample headroom…. but the embrasure is also rather wide.  Had we walked around the gun, we might find a shutter constructed in the embrasure to protect against sharpshooters.  Now this is not a field or siege carriage, but a wrought iron seacoast carriage adapted to the situation (and I think this gun is placed to cover an approach on the James… making it “seacoast” in function).  Note the shelf placed in front of the gun.  When hefting a 100 pound Parrott projectile, one needed a leg up… or two.

Behind that big Parrott are a couple of smaller brothers.  These also fire through embrasures.  We need to strain through the resolution to see the arrangements.  But there are platforms and the guns are given plenty of space to recoil.  All in all, this portion of the line looks well kept and orderly.  Almost like the crew knew they were to serve as an example 150 years later… yep!

A little less orderly, but still in good order, is a battery at Fort Putnam, on Morris Island:


Another couple of Parrotts on siege carriages firing through embasures.   These were aimed at Fort Sumter.  They share a platform.  Notice again the gabions used to reinforce the embrasures.  What we clearly do not see are any shutters.  We know some batteries on Morris Island employed iron shutters for protection, though not present here.  The field piece on the far left appears to be a Napoleon.  It has no parapet, but is sitting on a platform.  It is my interpretation that field gun is situated to provide close-in defense, should the Confederates attempt a raid.  As such, it was there in part to be “seen” more so than to be used.  Sort of like an alarm-company sign on the front lawn.

Elsewhere in Fort Putnam, the field guns out for defense were given better protection:


Talking about that on the left.  The gun is in barbette, though a stockade aligns to give more protection.  And of course to the right is another of those big Parrotts.  But this weapon is arranged to “super-elevate” beyond what the carriage was designed for.  Something seen often at Charleston in an effort to get maximum range out of the guns firing on the city or other points.  I call it out because, in a form follows function manner, the battery layout was altered from the textbook standards.  The gun fired over the parapet, but situated lower behind the parapet than a barbette battery.  In this case, the gunners were not concerned about direct fire.  Their iron blessings were sent indirectly to the target.

Bullet Shells? Why not case shot? Hotchkiss projectiles, Part 3

Let me pick up where I left off, several months back, discussing the Hotchkiss brothers and their ordnance patents.  Recall from those earlier posts, Andrew K. Hotchkiss possessed a keen mechanical mind.  He was behind the first set of patents issued to the brothers.  Specifically, Andrew’s name is associated with a rifle projectile using three parts – the main body, a lead ring, and a tail cup.  And when fired, the force of the charge pushed the cup to expand the lead ring, thus forcing the projectile into the rifling. However, Andrew, who was born crippled, died in 1858 at the age of only 35.

His brother, Benjamin B. Hotchkiss, who might best be described as an entrepreneur/inventor, continued the work on ordnance.  And we see that name associated with improvements to the pre-war Hotchkiss rifle projectile (and canister refinements).  Throughout the evolution, the basic design remained – main body, lead ring, and tail cup. And Benjamin used that design to create solid shot, shell (with timed and percussion fuses), and case shot.  The nomenclature of the case shot intrigues me, as the Ordnance Department referred to them as “bullet shells” in the summaries.

Now the basic premise of a bullet shell… er… case shot was to simply take a normal shell and fill it with sub-projectile balls (iron, but more often lead) and set off with a bursting charge while in flight (with a carefully set fuse), so as to scatter the sub-projectiles across the target.  We see these sometimes referred to as shrapnel after General Henry Shrapnel of the British Army. But as no weapon design is perfect, there were problems with that basic recipe.


First off, the sudden movement when the shrapnel/case shot was fired could cause the “bullets” to rub against the powder.  Such lead to premature explosions… not good for the crew serving the gun.  One refinement was to simply seal off the powder behind a diaphragm.  But that reduced the bursting charge and still left the bullets rattling around, possibly sparking against the cast iron body.  Another refinement was to place the bullets in some non-explosive solution (resin or sulfur for example) that cooled and hardened, thus gluing the bullets into place.  But this also reduced the room for the bursting charge and further introduced more (though slight) resistance to the bursting. Not to mention, the bursting charge itself remained loose and might possibly ignite due to rasping (the friction of the powder against it’s containing structure).

The problem with filling case shot (and shells in general) was more pronounced with rifle guns where the movement was on three axis.  Benjamin advanced his solution to this in Patent Number 35,153, issued on May 6, 1862:

My improvement relates to the contents or filling of the projectile, and to the adhesion of the same to the inclosing [sic] part, and it applicable to all forms and constructions of explosive projectiles.

The first feature of my invention is attained by solidifying the powder in the shell by use of collodion or an equivalent adhesive material not by its presence destructive to the explosive character of the powder, so as to prevent the friction of the powder upon itself and upon the sides of the shell or balls … to prevent a displacement of the powder from interfering with the proper action of the exploding apparatus in percussion-shells.

The nature of my invention also consists in causing the filling of an explosion projectile to adhere firmly to the sides thereof by employment of a solution of shellac or other proper adhesive substance… whereby the said filling is compelled to rotate with the shell, and much friction and danger of premature explosion avoided.

In essence, Benjamin Hotchkiss added something to the powder turning it into the glue to hold the bullets in place.  And he further cemented the payload with a generous application of adhesive to the shell interior.


Hotchkiss described the construction as such (my parenthesis and emphasis added to the figure references for clarity):

(A) is the body of the projectile, which may be made in any of the approved forms. (P) is the powder.  (B) are bullets interspersed with the powder….

The manner of filling as shell to produce the advantages of my invention is as follows: I first pour into the shell a solution of shellac in alcohol, and coat the whole interior therewith, as indicated by a brown line, (C). While this is still wet, I place in the balls (B), if there are any to be used, and then fill all the interstices with the powder (P). I then pour into the shell a sufficient quantity of “collodion” (gun-cotton dissolved in ether and alcohol) to fill all the interstices, and place the shell away to dry.  The alcohol and ether readily evaporate and leave the charge in a solid mass, the collodion serving as a cement to hold the grains of powder together, but offering no serious obstruction to the proper and rapid action of the fire when it is desired to explode the same. This solidified powder holds the balls (B) firmly in place… and the whole is cemented to the sides of the shell by the cement (C), so as that on firing the shell from a gun there is little or no liability of the powder becoming prematurely igninted, either by friction among the balls or its own particles against themselves or the sides of the shell or by backward motion of the exploding device.

Hotchkiss noted that while he was not the inventor of collodion, nor the first to use collodion to solidify gunpowder, he was the first to propose such use in a shell.

Clearly Hotchkiss had a viable solution to the cited problems – movement of the payload inside the shell.  But as is always the case, the soldiers in the field always find another problem to be solved.  The more gunners used case shot from their rifles, they began to notice poor shot patterns on the distant end.  When a spinning projectile explodes, the sub-projectiles and fragments disperse laterally and not directly on the line of flight.  Good artillerists looked for a way to project the sub-projectiles directly forward along the line of flight.  We might consider this as producing long range canister.

That requirement lead to another Hotchkiss patent:


… and ammunition for another post in this series.